Click for audio version read by author. ahab-or-elijah-1.mp3
We love stories! Perhaps that is why the Bible resonates with us, an unexpected method of divulging divine intent for our wayward race. God could have given us a dry instruction manual, and although His revelation includes plenty of commands and rules for kingdom conduct, we have lots of stories. Reading them from our “enlightened” cultural distance, many of them don’t make sense, and it is easy to look with superior contempt on those who blow it.
Take Ahab for instance. He calls for prophets to advise him whether or not he should enter into war with a formidable enemy, and they all patronize him with assurances. At his companion king’s (Jehoshaphat’s) promptings for further confirmation he sends for Micaiah, a prophet who usually annoys him by telling the truth. And when the prophet warns that pursuing this war will bring his demise and harm to the country, he locks him up. Glad we aren’t like this!!
Or are we? Let’s peek into our own interactions with our ‘prophets’. We seek God, pray to know His will, but so often fail to act because of inconvenience. Or reproach. Or self-will cloaked in piety. Or ignorance. Or unbelief. As you read this is there something that comes to mind that you have been putting off, moving from week to week on your to-do list, feeling guilty about, making excuses for not doing? There should be an urgency to respond to His promptings, since we have so little time to learn and practice kingdom ways, yet we are so easily lulled into complacency by the ‘grace-mirage’ concept of God that we minimize and distort our responsibility to obey. Back to our story.
Ahab had an obvious ego problem – inflated. His will dominated even the will of God. He felt he knew better, perhaps taking his cue from contemporary kings. Dallas Willard asserts that all evil comes from will running beyond knowledge. He refused the knowledge that God offered him through His prophets. Willfully blind! (Nice pun!) He previously had some dealings with the prophet Elijah, who had predicted impending punishment for all the evil he had done against God and His people. Elijah was no diminutive force for God – read his resume’ for another interesting story. But now yet another prophet, Micaiah, exposes the foolishness of his proposed course of action, and yet he decides with impunity to disguise himself and go into battle anyway. His character is revealed clearly when he tells Jehoshaphat to dress in his royal robes for the battle (as a decoy) while he himself dressed as a common soldier. We kind of rejoice as we read about the ‘random’ arrow that struck a joint in his armor. Surprise! You can’t trick the Lord! And that silly little prediction of Elijah’s so long ago that the dogs would lick his blood – symbolic right? Nope – they washed out his chariot and guess who cleaned up?
If this seems like an interesting but irrelevant story, consider our environment. We actually have power inaccessible to most people in history unless they were royalty. Technology has given us tools unimaginable to our ancestors. We have developed an illusion of more control and knowledge than we actually possess. Information substitutes for wisdom – by which I mean knowing how to act in a realm racing to spiritual destruction. Add this to our careless assimilation of cultural pride, condescension and prevailing disinformation which lookahab-or-elijah.mp3
at religion as superstition rather than knowledge, and you have an Ahab in the making.
As Christians we have our prophetic guides: the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit, our fellow believers, circumstances. Yet we seem so eager to run to logical reasonings, scientific explanations, or cultural perceptions of reality to order our lives. Not saying that logic, science, or culture are wrong – but they are incomplete filters for universal truth. They get some things right, but sift out crucial components for eternal living. Like Ahab we find it easy to accept current philosophies that we have been warned about, rejecting and reformatting God’s revelations as outdated or mistranslated.
And for those of us who sit back in smug assurance that we have our doctrine correct, I would challenge us to scrutinize our actions. How do they line up with “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” ? That is a better evaluator of our security – intention is not action. Faith without works is dead. God has grace, yes. It enables as well as forgives. It instructs in godliness, self control, and wise walking. Are we tending towards Ahab or Elijah?
I like this observation by Alexander Maclaren, which was made in the late 1800’s but seems very contemporary.
“There is a great craving today, more perhaps than there has been in some other periods of the world’s history, for a religion which shall adorn, but shall not restrain; for a religion which shall be toothless, and have no bite in it; for a religion that shall sanction anything that it pleases our sovereign mightiness to want to do. We should all like to have God’s sanction for our actions. But there are a great many of us who will not take the only way to secure that-namely to do the actions which He commands, and to abstain from those which He forbids. Popular Christianity is a very easy-fitting garment; it is like an old shoe that you can slip off and on without any difficulty. But a religion which does not put up a strong barrier between you and many of your inclinations is not worth anything. The mark of a message from God is that it restrains and coerces and forbids and commands. And some of you do not like it because it does.”
So while we still have the opportunity, let’s write our story in the spirit and power of Elijah and resist the pull of the Ahab in our hearts.